As pointed out on the SUSE page on the wiki, the German distribution SUSE
has never had much of a following in New Zealand. With the purchase of
Novell and the impending push in support that Novell will give for SUSE
based products, and the new availability of a one-CD 'personal' edition, I
thought I'd give SUSE a try.
The personal edition of SUSE comes on one CD, and it seems very positive
from the start. Immediately upon boot you get a nice graphical splash
screen, allowing you to either continue booting from the hard drive or
install Linux, in normal or failsafe mode. It will attempt to automatically
detect your screen resolution for the graphical installer, or you can pick
one from a list.
When YaST, the SUSE installer/setup tool loads, the good impressions
continue. The installer is very much like the RedHat/FedoraProject
installer, with help down the left side and the main options in a larger
window on the right. It makes some judgements about your computer and offers
a single click install. It detected a Windows partition and offered to
shrink it and install into the newly created space, which would be an
excellent option for new users. On my test machine, a P3-500 laptop with
192mb of RAM, I told it I wanted to manually override this and install to
the whole hard drive.
There are some niggles in the installer - you specify the time zone at this
point, and there wasn't one for New Zealand at all! I had to select GMT+12
from an "Etc" list, but this won't account for daylight savings.
At this point I should point out that the functionality available is limited
by the fact this is a one CD distribution - you don't get GNOME, but SUSE
has always been strongly aligned with KDE.
The installer claimed it was going to install 1.4Gb of data - decent
compression for a 700mb CD - and did so in a little over 45 minutes. The
slide show was reasonably standard, offering screenshots and soundbites. KDE
is referred to as "the comfortable desktop" - a comment on it's well known
"resemblance" to MicrosoftWindows, I'm sure. The screenshots looked like
they could do with being updated. They advertised Kopete and GAIM on the
same screen - while it's nice to have options, it's also nice to have a
'best of breed'. (The personal edition doesn't actually have GAIM).
Also, for a Windows user going through this setup, I think I'd like to see
projects with less 'kooky' names.
After a reboot, YaST continued with it's first boot routine, setting up user
accounts and hardware. It complained about 'root' as a root password on two
counts, being too short and containing the username. It also asked me to
create a user account, and I notice it had auto-login on for that user. It
also auto-detected the laptop's built in modem.
After about an hour total, I had booted into SUSE.
Linux is Linux, and as a regular GNOME user, it's hard to judge a KDE
desktop objectively. I'm not sure how much of the issues were SUSE and how
much were KDE, but as SUSE are the major sponsor of KDE development I assume
the two are interconnected somehow.
The desktop is very reminiscent of Knoppix or Mandrake, but after an
excellent looking setup routine, the default desktop was disappointing. The
main fonts were too small and the OpenOffice fonts were too big. Changing
the KDE fonts was simple; setting font size to 90% in OpenOffice made them
look almost identical (more so than they do on Fedora), but it's not
something that a normal user will be able to do. It's possibly not even
something they'd notice.
Desktop icons give you a nice tooltip, but they need to be single clicked,
which isn't immediately clear. I had two of everything popping up straight
For a personal edition desktop, it offers litlte more than three games -
Enigma, Freeciv and Frozen Bubble. KDE on other distros ships with dozens of
little games - I found it odd that they were all missing. Surely something
like the LIRC client could be cleared to make way for Soko Ban.
The SUSE help, built on the KDE help center, has a great manual built in,
but it seems a little out of date, and it isn't customized for the personal
The desktop sharing stuff in KDE looked promising, if not a direct copy of
the Remote Assistance feature in Windows. I'm glad to see the
mail/contacts/calendar apps compiled into one application but it's hidden in
the Office menu below "Document Viewer" and above "Office Suite", yet
"Kontact" and not "Groupware Client" or "Email/Contacts".
the menu structure was far more contained than Fedora's mess, and more
manageable than Knoppix by virtue of having less packages installed.
As a personal edition I didn't check too far into the console - Aristotle
suggests that it's crippled without a compiler, but I was trying to use
locate and it didn't even have that! Surely it could have done away with
something like the LIRC server in favour of a bit more power in the CLI.
YaST has some nice ideas - it has a "Load Vendor Driver CD" option for
example, which would be great if vendors shipped driver CDs, but after the
initial detection of the modem, I was let down by it saying that it needed
the 'ltmodem' package, which wasn't on the CD. SUSE 9.1 Personal comes with
Sun's Java, Acrobat Reader and RealPlayer, so they're obviously happy with
licensing software. The lack of internet connectivity meant that, without a
network card in the laptop, I couldn't go any further with internet access.
Otherwise, YaST seems like a very clean interface for configuring a system,
and isn't just a copy of Control Panel.
Being built on the 2.6 kernel, I would have expected better laptop support
as well. Closing the hood seemed to make no effect, either on AC power or on
the battery. The ACPI options in YaST suggested that there was no ACPI
support, and APM didn't do anything.
Sound "just worked" - including software mixing in all the applications I
tried, including the always tricky RealPlayer. I was very glad to see Noatun
dropped in favour of xmms.
I have only seen little bits of Mandrake, but from what I have seen, as a
KDE distribution it rivals SUSE on every strength, and now that YaST is open
source, it could well have everything that SUSE Personal has to offer. If
you're looking for something to give to your Mum, and you're a KDE fan,
evaluate Mandrake along with SUSE.
Personally, I hope the fact that SUSE is now under the same wing as Novell's
Ximian team, means that we will see some of their great advances and ability
to make simple tidy ups to a broken interface, applied to the SUSE desktop.